Creating Across Cultures - Candace Chong

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CONTENTS Editor’s Notes on Romanization and Pronunciation Preface Acknowledgments

viii ix xii

IN T RODUC T IO N By Michelle Vosper


WO MEN of WORDS Introduction by Jennifer Feeley



NIEH HUALING 聶華苓: On the Outside Looking In


By Michelle Vosper CHAPTER 2

LIAO WEN 廖雯: Writing a New Chapter for Chinese Contemporary Art


By Christina Yuen Zi Chung CHAPTER 3

CANDACE CHONG 莊梅岩: A Playwright Puts the Hong Kong Story on Center Stage


By Clare Tyrrell-Morin WO RLD of the VISUAL Introduction by Sasha Su-ling Welland CHAPTER 4

YIN XIUZHEN 尹秀珍: Sculpting Soft Histories



By Samantha Culp CHAPTER 5

CHOI YAN CHI 蔡仞姿: Blazing a Trail for Hong Kong Art and Education


By Clare Tyrrell-Morin CHAPTER 6

LULU SHUR-TZY HOU 侯淑姿: Taiwan Through a Feminist Lens


By Christina Yuen Zi Chung CHAPTER 7

JAFFA LAM 林嵐: An Artist Shines a Light on Community


By Clare Tyrrell-Morin with Valerie C. Doran CHAPTER 8

YANG LINA 楊荔鈉: The Art of Documenting China’s Most Vulnerable

By Jennifer Feeley



CHINA HAS A RICH TRADITION of women’s literature spanning more than two millennia. In premodern times, empresses and courtesans, Daoist and Buddhist nuns, gentry and peasant women composed work across a range of genres. The last two dynasties alone produced more than three thousand anthologies featuring poetry authored by women, and by the end of the nineteenth century, women were composing fiction and plays, often featuring cross-dressing heroines, expressing their dreams and frustrations. Some cross-dressed in their actual lives, including Qiu Jin (1875–1907), who envisioned herself as a modern-day Hua Mulan, and wrote poetry to complement photographs of herself in male attire. While studying in Japan, Qiu attended workshops on bomb making and became an avid swordswoman. She spent the rest of her life in China as a teacher and editor, and founded her own journals. In 1907, Qiu was beheaded for conspiring against the Manchu government and became instantly immortalized like the female martyrs whom she had admired.

A decade later Hu Shih, a leader in the New Culture Movement, noted that Chen had been his “earliest comrade” in writing vernacular literature. Yet critics credit the male writer Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman,” published in 1918, as the first modern Chinese short story, and Lu Xun as the “godfather” of modern Chinese literature. Like Qiu Jin and Chen Hengzhe, the three writers featured in this section have been profoundly impacted by physical and cultural border-crossing. Fiction writer and essayist Nieh Hualing’s journey began in war-torn China in the 1930s, took her to Taiwan, an island under martial law in the 1950s and 60s—and finally to eastern Iowa, where she has nurtured scores of international writers far from home. Art critic Liao Wen, born toward the end of a devastating famine in China, spans the East–West divide with her comparative study of art from the women’s movement in China and the second-wave feminist movement in the United States. The youngest writer, Candace Chong, made her mark as one of

of WORDS For Qiu Jin and her contemporaries, poised at the juncture between tradition and modernity, women’s self-improvement was a means to national empowerment. The New Culture Movement, which sprang up in the wake of the 1911 revolution, inspired a call for literature in vernacular Chinese rather than classical Chinese (the traditional purview of the educated elite). In 1917, a young woman studying in the United States, Sophia Chen Hengzhe, published the first short story written in vernacular Chinese, “One Day,” inspired by her time at Vassar College.

Anonymous, Lady Writing a Letter Ink and colors on silk. Eighteenth century, China © 2013 Peabody Essex Museum

Hong Kong’s most relevant playwrights shortly after the former colony had returned to Chinese sovereignty. While much of Chong’s work is localized, one of her most widely discussed plays centers on characters from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are living in California. The following chapters reveal the diversity and complexity of the lives and writings of these three women, demonstrating that women writers from Greater China and the Chinese diaspora, far from monolithic or parochial, speak powerfully about the human condition. — Jennifer Feeley 7



Some writers use their knowledge to shape their works. It’s quite the contrary with me; the works I’ve made have shaped my life.

CANDACE CHONG is a prolific, award-winning Hong Kong playwright, whose timely plays have captured the essence of the complicated Hong Kong Chinese identity. Written in Cantonese, her works have resonated deeply with a new generation of theatergoers in Hong Kong.

A Playwright Puts the Hong Kong Story on Center Stage By Clare Tyrrell-Morin


andace Chong Mui-ngam is one of Hong Kong’s most important new voices. The young playwright creates powerful, insightful plays that capture the Hong Kong zeitgeist, taking issues from the city’s headlines and weaving them into mesmerizing plot lines. Her plays jolt her audience into wakefulness, demanding that they sit up and look deeply into all of society’s contradictions. With razor-sharp, black humor and a nuanced understanding of the human condition, Chong has been pulling a new generation of young Hong Kong intellectuals into theaters. It is to Hong Kong’s credit that the city’s leading playwright is a woman. While theaters in the United States and Europe grapple with major gender imbalances, Hong Kong’s cultural scene has many women in top jobs. Candace Chong is rarely discussed as a woman playwright in Hong Kong; she’s simply known as the best of her generation. The renowned American playwright David Henry Hwang has taken her under his wing, employing her to translate several of his works, including Chinglish, into Chinese. In 2014 he invited Chong to travel to New York’s Signature Theater to present her play Wild Boar (2012) and to speak on a panel as part of the Contemporary Chinese Playwriting Series. Chong sat alongside leading mainland Chinese and Taiwanese playwrights, including Meng Jinghui (Rhinoceros in Love, 1999), Chi WeiJan (MIT: Made in Taiwan, 2008) and Nick Yu Rongjun (Das Kapital, 2011). “David has nurtured so many young Asian theater artists. He is always willing to read scripts and offer advice. He is an incredibly generous person,” says Chong of her work with Hwang. Earlier in 2014, Chong was in the limelight for the script she wrote for Tonnochy, a historic production that brought legendary theater director Fredric Mao together with film stars Carina Lau and Tony Leung. It proved to be one of the biggest-selling runs in Cantonese theater of all time. 53


Chong set the play in the “golden years” of 1970s Hong Kong, a time of extraordinary economic growth. Against the glamour and gags of the hostesses, businessmen and stars in Tonnochy—an actual nightclub in Wan Chai—the story recounts the Carrian Group scandal, the biggest bankruptcy case in Hong Kong history. The conglomerate had fueled the Hong Kong property market in the late 1970s and early 80s—only to collapse, leaving a trail of fraud, suicide and debt. Chong crafted a script that entertained, yet also held up a mirror to her city, subtly pointing to the corruption charges sweeping through the Hong Kong government and property developers in 2014. “Candace is renowned in the field,” says Bobo Fung, the Resident Director of Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and another powerful woman in Hong Kong theater. “She is the most successful playwright of her generation and has this passion for researching human nature; she cares about how human beings fight between their own good and evil sides, and how they fight against good and evil in society.”

A scene from the stage production of Chong’s Tonnochy, directed by Fredric Mao, at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 2014.

“I Didn’t Belong to Hong Kong” Ironically, for someone who is hailed as the voice of her generation, for many years Chong did not feel like a Hongkonger. Her roots, like Hong Kong’s, lie over the border in mainland China. She was born in the southern province of Fujian an hour after Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976. Her father, Chong Ching-po, an opera performer, was called away that



The Chong family in Fujian in the late 1970s. Candace is the second child from the left in the first row.

Our job as writers isn’t to make as night to take part in mourning ceremonies for the Chairman. But he had predicted that this would happen. “When my mother was pregnant, my much money as we can. Our job is to father used to tell her, ‘When our kids are born, Mao Zedong will die, and create a record of this time. then we will have good times,’” Chong recalls. — Marsha Norman Chairman Mao had not made life easy for Chong’s father. He was an actor and director of Nanyin opera (or nanqu) indigenous to Fujian (see Chapter 10 on Wang Xinxin, for more on the Nanyin tradition). Chong Ching-po had been sent to a “re-education camp” during the Cultural Revolution after he was overheard making a joke about Jiang Qing (the wife of Mao). He met Chong’s mother Wong Pik Wan after he was released. When their firstborn daughter arrived, the country was still in a state of social displacement and deprivation, drastically reducing opportunities for families like theirs. Chong’s parents applied for permission to immigrate to Hong Kong, the British colony to the south, which offered the promise of a better life. Her maternal grandmother was already there, so they had a route in. When they were granted papers, they packed their bags that very night and left. As they traveled over the border at Lo Wu, Chong’s mother was pregnant with her brother. It was Christmas Eve, 1978. The family moved into a 600-square-foot apartment in Sai Wan (Western District) in Hong Kong. “We had Candace as a toddler with her mother, Wong Pik Wan. 55


more than fifteen people sharing the apartment, and it was so noisy with all the kids fighting and playing,” she remembers. They “worked like donkeys” to survive, taking jobs in factories, learning the local dialect of Cantonese, pouring their resources into their children’s education and sending funds to relatives back home on the mainland. By the age of 12, Chong was accepted into Saint Paul’s Co-educational College, one of the top AngloChinese schools in Hong Kong, where education is free and based on merit. Every summer and Lunar New Year, she and her family would head back to Fujian carrying bags of gifts for the family. “My earliest memory was that I didn’t belong to Hong Kong,” muses Chong. “Fujian was my hometown, the place where people who loved me lived. It was so spacious; in Hong Kong we lived in such a small room and people didn’t seem very friendly to us.” This sense of otherness shadowed Chong during her psychology studies at the Chinese University of The Chong family on a Hong Kong street, circa 1979. Hong Kong. “I knew I was a Hong Kong citizen, but I felt like I was very different from my classmates. I felt like I was more traditional. I grew up listening to my father’s stories about mainland China’s political situation and his life in education camps.” While she was at Chinese University, Chong watched a play from Beijing about Ruan Lingyu—a famous silent film actress who had committed suicide at the age of 24. By the final scene of that play, something connected deeply with Chong’s heart. “The stage was set with an enormous sheet of flowing silk,” she remembers. “The actress playing Ruan Lingyu delivered a monologue and walked around the silk as though she was floating in the clouds. It was such a beautiful and profound depiction of death. I wanted to create something like that too.” When Chong arrived at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) to study for a two-year diploma in playwriting, she fell under the spell of her professor, Lee Ming-sum. Lee was a Beijinger who had graduated from the Central Academy of Drama. His northern accent distinctly reminded her of her father. Chong remembers the time he decided that he would direct one of the students’ plays as an APA production—a previously unheard-of



concept at the school. The small group of playwriting students competed for this rare opportunity. “After reading my play, he said, ‘Well I don’t want to break your heart, but it’s trash.’ I went to the foyer and cried for a whole afternoon.” Chong came back with a stunning rewrite, basing the play in Fujian Province and drawing upon her own experiences of heartache. The resulting comedy, Love in the Red Chamber, went on to win the competition and earned her an Outstanding Young Playwright award (2001–2002) from the APA. Chong first made the headlines in Hong Kong in 2003 with her play Alive in the Mortuary. The drama had hit the city’s consciousness in an eerily prophetic way and it won her an inaugural Hong Kong Drama Award. It was commissioned by the Chung Ying (Chinese–English) Theatre Company, where Chong became resident playwright. Her assigned topic was Médecins Sans Frontières, and her impulse was to go to the streets and interview people. One of the medical students she encountered, James, particularly inspired her with his idealism and faith in the profession.

Lee Chun-chow and Faye Leung in a scene from The French Kiss, directed by Gabriel Lee, at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 2005.



Alive in the Mortuary follows the disillusioned Dr. Li, a surgeon close to retirement age who gets locked in a mortuary while volunteering for a charity agency in Angola. He finds himself sharing the space with another Hongkonger, Jeff, a much younger medical student who feels utterly cynical about the profession. The two engage in debate around the corpses amid high comedy—and a powerful plot twist that evokes a stirring sense of Hong Kong history. Chong went on to marry that medical student, and Alive in the Mortuary hit the stage just months before the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) swept into Hong Kong in 2003. The epidemic nearly brought the entire city to a halt, as the mysterious virus caused hundreds of deaths—including the loss of many medical workers—and entire sections of the city were shut down and quarantined. After SARS was contained, Alive in the Mortuary was rerun to critical acclaim for bringing hope back to the medical establishment. It earned her a Best Original Script award at the 2003 Hong Kong Drama Awards and Chong was named Outstanding Young Playwright by the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies. By 2005, Chong had won her second Hong Kong Drama Award for Shall We Go to Mars?, followed by her third win in 2006 for The French Kiss, a drama set in one room and on two simple chairs. The French Kiss was based on the true story of a Hong Kong pastor in 1995 who was sued for kissing a colleague. The dialogue is riveting and unexpected; Chong bravely strides into issues often avoided in conservative Hong Kong society—sex, religion, blame and the invisible lines that attach people. She even drew praise from religious circles for her evocation of the doubts that can eat away at one’s faith. David Henry Hwang, a fan of Candace’s work, knows how difficult it is to write such realistic scripts. “Writing a play is not like writing a novel or poem,” he says. “It takes a particular consciousness of how words live when they are spoken aloud, and an appreciation of the particular opportunities and challenges of performance. I find that this sort of sensitivity is difficult to teach, but Candace understands it intuitively.” A Hong Kong Writer Emerges It was only when Chong left Hong Kong in 2004 that the 28-year-old’s sense of identity as a Hong Kong writer finally emerged. She had gone for a yearlong residency in New York City with a Lee Hysan Foundation Fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council.



“You have to leave home to find your identity,” she muses. “Distance is important. I did a lot of thinking about my identity. Was I a Fujian girl, a Chinese person or a Hong Kong person? I started to think about why, when I would hang out with mainland Chinese and Taiwanese, they had very strong political points of view. They had a very strong sense of identity about themselves. But I didn’t. I was kind of embarrassed.”

Kearan Pang (playing Sammy), Alice Lau (Ling), and Tang Wai-kit (Tang) in Murder in San Jose, directed by Lee Chun-chow, at Hong Kong City Hall, 2009.

It was this evolving awareness of the differences between Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong people that formed the backbone of Murder in San Jose. The play was commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival as part of their New Works Scheme in 2009 and was conceived during Chong’s year in the United States. She completed it while studying for a master’s degree at the Royal Holloway at University College London. It has since become one of her most talked-about works. The play is a study of the overseas Chinese experience. It opens in a house in the hills of San Jose, California where a Hong Kong couple, Tang and Ling, are living a quiet life. Before the first act even begins, the audience can glimpse a body, bound and gagged below the floorboards, crying for help—setting up the mystery right from the start. The tensions of Tang and Ling’s marriage gradually spill out in a dark psychological thriller interspersed with moments of laugh-out-loud comedy. As their marriage unravels, friends and business partners from the local Chinese community pop by and—amid a clash of Cantonese and Putonghua— Chong raises the nuances, tensions and stereotypes of Greater China.



Patrick (from mainland China): When it comes to identity, the Taiwanese are very stubborn. Unlike Hong Kong people who are very slick. Tang (from Hong Kong): We’re just very adaptable. History made us that way. What were we going to do, fight every change of government that came along? If a sense of identity means I can’t adjust to a new environment, I’d rather change myself and adapt. Ming (from Taiwan): You’re talking about surviving. I’m talking about surviving with dignity.

Society is inside of man and man is inside society, and you cannot even create a truthfully drawn psychological entity on the stage until you understand his social relations and their power to make him what he is and to prevent him from being what he is not. The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish. — Arthur Miller (1915–2005)


“Of course, the starting point is the quality of the script itself. It is absolutely gripping,” says Frank Proctor, founder of Muse Magazine in Hong Kong, who sponsored the play when it premiered in 2009. “Candace weaves such masterful plot twists that you find your head spinning along with the protagonist as her world turns upside down.... For me, it is ultimately a meditation on identity. In that sense, you can see Candace’s Hong Kong roots. But the play transcends its Hong Kong origins; it isn’t a Huaju and the Birth of Modern Chinese Drama Chinese huaju, or spoken drama, originated in Tokyo in 1907, thanks in part to the American novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A group of Chinese arts students at the Tokyo Fine Arts Institute formed a theater collective known as the Spring Willow Society. One of its members, Zeng Xiaogu, had been inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin—Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about slavery—the first American novel to be translated into Chinese. The preface in the translation, by Lin Shu, described the suffering The title page of the first edition of Uncle Tom’s of Chinese laborers working in America on Cabin (1852). the first Transcontinental Railroad. Historians consider Zeng Xiaogu’s adaptation, performed on stage in Tokyo in 1907, to be the first moment of Chinese spoken drama. The emergence of huaju coincided with the trend of writing in vernacular Chinese, which gave writers the flexibility to address contemporary issues that couldn’t be expressed naturally in classical form. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for its part, inspired the use of literature to expose social problems and promote political views.


‘local’ work at all. It travels well, which is why the English version has been frequently performed overseas, from Singapore to New York.” A Voice of Her Time Candace Chong’s talents have arisen out of a uniquely Hong Kong tradition that has grown from a petri dish of Eastern and Western forms. She is among only the second generation of original Hong Kong playwrights. Before the British took over in 1841, Hong Kong had spent millennia as a humble scattering of fishing and farming villages, where Cantonese opera eventually became the dominant form of theater. Its influence can be seen today in the traditional bamboo stage scaffolding erected for performances honoring local deities and for colorful festival celebrations. For centuries, Chinese theater was restricted to the traditional forms of opera—with centuries-old stories and superstitions powering the narratives. Huaju, or Chinese “spoken drama,” first appeared on the mainland in the early 1900s and it washed over the porous border into Hong Kong, bringing its revolutionary energy with it. At the same time, Chinese intellectuals were grappling with an influx of modern Western ideas and a growing discontent with the foreign occupation of districts in Chinese cities (foreign concessions; the spoils of nineteenth-century defeats by European powers). Revolution was swelling. The most famous proponent of huaju was the playwright Cao Yu, who broke new ground during the 1930s by writing about dysfunctional traditional families, prostitutes, incest and cultural hypocrisy. His first play, Thunderstorm, won him instant fame when it came out in 1934 and was followed by Sunrise (1936) and Peking Man (1940). People and ideas traveled easily across the border between Hong Kong and the mainland before it was closed in 1949, and the colony was influenced by huaju from the start. From the 1950s and into the 1980s, major works of Western drama, including the plays of Shakespeare, O’Neill and Chekov, were translated into Cantonese. Dr. Chung King-fai was one of the first to introduce Theater of the Absurd and other types of translated works to the colony after his studies at Yale University. “When I came back in 1962 from my studies … Hong Kong theater was mainly amateur, and our performing arts were way behind the U.K. and U.S. in every aspect,” he explains. “So we had to learn from foreign countries in order to improve the drama productions in Hong Kong.” Yet it was Chung King-fai’s generation in the late 1960s and early 70s that saw the first Cantonese playwrights beginning to emerge—



writing their own Hong Kong stories in their own language. The Leftist riots of 1967, for example, were featured in Raymond To’s legendary play I Have a Date With Spring (1992), in which a famed singer returns to a nightclub for one final performance during the very night of the riots. The play, which had audiences in tears with laughter and nostalgia, brought the general public into the theater, which had been largely the space of students, academics and expatriates. The first generation of Hong Kong playwrights also included Ko Ting Lung (who became the artistic director of the Chung Ying Theatre Company), Paul Poon (who initiated the city’s excellent Playwright Scheme in 2006) and Anthony Chan (Metamorphosis Under the Stars, 1986), a prolific playwright and longtime Head of Directing and Playwriting at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. What really distinguishes Hong Kong theater today, in addition to its state-of-the-art production techniques, is its use of Cantonese. This is the spoken language of Guangdong Province, where most Hong Kong people originated, and a major spoken language of overseas Chinese around the world. Cantonese and Mandarin are as different as English and French. Speakers of one cannot understand the other without extensive exposure or study. In order for the scripts of Cao Yu to be performed in Cantonese they needed to be completely rewritten to accommodate the Cantonese sentence structure and southern usage. This has resulted in a “Cantonese

Raymond To’s 1992 play I Have a Date with Spring, which takes place during the riots of 1967, is a classic in the history of Hong Kong theater.



written language” that is not used for formal writing. But for the Cantonese people, it is more than worth the trouble. Their nine-tone language is rich and lyrical. This provides endless opportunities for puns, which are as basic to the humor of down-to-earth Cantonese culture as belief in ghosts. While the language can be spoken with great formality, it is also full of salty vocabulary and often defies political correctness. Candace Chong is a master at using the colorful possibilities of Cantonese to capture her Hong Kong audiences, who see themselves in her work.

In 2010, Chong wrote her first libretto, for Sun Yat-sen, an opera about the founding father of the Chinese Republic. (Photo by Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera)

Ask Candace Chong who her greatest influences are and she’ll point to Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller. You can feel Ibsen in the way she unfolds her studies of humanity on the stage, peeling back the layers of her characters to show their contradictions. Every single play she writes seems to kick off with an unexpected energy, the dialogue laced with humor as she masterfully disarms her audience, and keeps them questioning. This questioning spirit, which leads her to conduct exhaustive interviews in her research for plays, lies at the heart of her success. “Some



writers use their knowledge to shape their works, it’s quite the contrary with me,” says Chong. “The works I’ve made have shaped my life. I don’t think I would be the same person if I hadn’t written Wild Boar (2012) or The Professor (2013), or if I hadn’t touched on freedom of speech and self-censorship among other things. I think these works have awoken a sort of ‘sense’ in my body and now I can no longer ignore the incidents happening around me. I am asking questions, and I have so many questions to ask.” Wild Boar I want to remind you all: journalism is the first rough draft of history. Please do not use your title as journalist in the prolonged illusion of free speech. Do not remain in this profession just to be a collaborator in burying the truth. — Prologue, Wild Boar, 2012

Karena Lam and Wong Tze-wah in a scene from Wild Boar, directed by Olivia Yan, at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 2012.

Chong’s play Wild Boar, commissioned and produced by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, debuted at the intimate Drama Theatre of the APA in February 2012 as protesters were camping out less than a mile away below the headquarters of HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank. They were reacting to record-high property prices and projects like the high-speed Guangzhou–Hong Kong Express Rail Link that was pushing families off their farms. Property developers are a controversial species in Hong Kong, where seven million people live upon 427 square miles—one of the highest population densities on the planet. While the city has an exceptionally low 64


income tax rate, its land tax is colossal. With extremely high rents, young people see the possibility of buying their own apartment to be increasingly remote. This has led to an atmosphere of simmering desperation. Wild Boar, set in an unnamed city, opens with the news that a local historian has disappeared. “Our city and its culture are entering a period of regression,” says Ryan Yuen Man-san as he announces his resignation. The veteran news editor is launching an independent press in a bid to protect the public’s “right to know.” When Wild Boar was rerun two years later in the summer of 2014, its themes of property developers and media censorship turned out to be shockingly prescient. For more than a century, Hong Kong has enjoyed a free press and permitted newspapers of all persuasions—communist, nationalist and religious. Yet since the Handover in 1997, these freedoms have become murkier; journalists in 2014 experienced a wave of media intimidation. The most horrific of these was a violent ambush on Kevin Lau Chunto, the former editor-in-chief of Ming Pao, one of Hong Kong’s most respected, liberal Chinese newspapers. Lau was viciously attacked on the street, and severely injured, by men wielding cleavers. A week later, thousands of journalists and members of the public marched for press freedoms, holding placards that read: “They Can’t Kill Us All.”

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me light glinting on broken glass. — Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)

The Future of Hong Kong Theater Candace Chong represents a coming of age for Hong Kong theater. Yet in recent years, there has been a sense that Hong Kong’s unique cultural traditions may be at risk. In Chong’s 2013 play, The Professor, commissioned by the Chinese University of Hong Kong to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, she debates this issue through the medium of students at the university. Picking up on the major protests of 2012—against the mainland government’s attempts to launch a moral and national education in Hong Kong schools—Chong created a character named Jeremy, a university student who becomes involved in a student protest and is arrested by the authorities. In September of 2014, student unions set off ten weeks of demonstrations on the major streets of Hong Kong in what became known as the “Occupy Movement” (or “Umbrella Movement” in the foreign press). The protesters were reacting

Poon Chan-leung in a scene from The Professor, directed by Octavian Chan, Hong Kong City Hall, 2013.



to the announcement by Chinese leaders of new election arrangements for 2017. These reinterpreted “universal suffrage” to elect Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (as written in the language of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution”). Hundreds of thousands of people filled three-lane highways with tents in a massive show of civil disobedience. As the protests surged that autumn, Candace Chong was receiving a visit from the Wooster Group. The New York theater group had been investigating ways to collaborate with Chong and Hong Kong drama since 2008. Sitting in her parent’s humble apartment in Mongkok, they discussed the issues that were pushing an entire generation of well-behaved students out the door and into rebellion. “We met with Candace in Hong Kong and had an incredible time visiting her,” explains Elizabeth LeCompte, Artistic Director of the Wooster Group, who has been lauded for her contributions to promoting social change through theater. “Her family, the situation in Hong Kong, her perspective. She’s a contemporary Hong Kong voice.” Chong was one of the few arts figures in Hong Kong who commented publicly on the demonstrations. “I’m quite open about this, about speaking up,” she says. Not everyone in Hong Kong would agree with her, or with the strategy of the Occupy Movement, which occupied several neighborhoods of Hong Kong for two and a half months, bringing traffic to a halt and raising concern for the productivity of one of the world’s most efficient cities. The movement had the effect of polarizing Hong Kong’s largely apolitical population, pitting Confucianstyle parents of the colonial era against a younger generation who saw themselves as responsible for Hong Kong’s future. Some commentators would argue that Candace Chong and her contemporaries already enjoy the precious right to present politically charged work without interference from government censorship. So why rock the boat and stir up problems with the Chinese government? As Candace Chong, explains, the point is to keep these very freedoms alive. “That’s why we need to speak out and express ourselves, especially during this critical period,” she says. “Otherwise there is no return. I believe that a lot of people who kept quiet during the protests did so because they thought that there would be no point in going to protest, no point in asking for more. But there is always a group of people who believe there is hope.” Chong populates her plays with such Hong Kong people who are, much like herself, hardworking, intelligent, brimming with humor, open-minded, and always questioning.



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